file photo Arbor Day - CDC pushing a return to mask wearing
LINCOLN - In a letter to constituents, Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry discusses the spread of the “Delta Variant” as the pandemic reaches a grim milestone.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. In just a few days, every professional sport in the world shut down. Borders closed. Air, ship, and bus travel ground to a halt. Lockdowns went into effect. New York, “the city that never sleeps,” finally slept.
True to our nature, Nebraskans quickly grasped the magnitude of the emergency, and adapted, complied, and helped out. I remember many beautiful stories of neighbor helping neighbor and people sacrificing for one another. As uncertainty and fear gripped the nation, the federal government went into hyperdrive to protect healthcare, protect individuals and families, and protect small business. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was a bipartisan airlift that kept many businesses afloat, as we worked to navigate the brave new world of Zoom calls, social distancing, and remote everything.
In those early traumatic days of the pandemic, a distant hope was that a vaccine would eventually arrive to rescue us from the pernicious and deadly “novel coronavirus.” As China hid the football on the nature and origins of COVID-19, our nation’s top political leaders, scientists, and health professionals launched Operation Warp Speed to research, develop, and disseminate COVID vaccines in record time.
I got vaccinated early on. I had a lengthy conversation with the doctor in DC about it. I believe I made the right decision. To this day, I encourage those whose medical condition allows to get the vaccine. Along with social distancing and masking where appropriate, it’s an important part of protecting oneself, one’s family, and public health.
While our nation’s man-on-the-moon effort to create COVID vaccines deserves praise and gratitude, the decision to get vaccinated is very personal. Some persons have underlying conditions that a vaccine could potentially worsen. Others have already contracted COVID and have natural antibodies. Still others have qualms of conscience for various sincere reasons.
In this delicate moment, public representatives and medical officials must be mindful not to come across as authoritarian, especially when the science on COVID remains fluid, the virus keeps evolving, and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) keep shifting. Elitist, smarmy, heavy-handed diktats––trying to shame people into compliance as many in the media do––confuse and alienate persons and create an atmosphere of distrust. Being respectful, honest, and upfront about what we do and do not know is a much better way to forge public trust.
Here’s where we are right now. This week, the pandemic reached a grim milestone when the number of COVID cases globally reached 200 million. That includes more than 35 million cases in the U.S. and 230,000 in Nebraska. Our state has seen six consecutive weeks of COVID case increases, with a 140% increase in cases over the last two weeks alone.
This dramatic upsurge has resulted in a steady rise in hospitalizations, due to the rapid emergence of “the delta variant,” a cryptic name for a far more transmissible and fast-moving strain of the original virus. The CDC estimates that the delta variant now accounts for more than 93% of COVID cases circulating in the U.S. and 98% of all cases in the region that includes Nebraska. While vaccinated people can contract and transmit the delta variant, most cases have occurred in unvaccinated persons, including increasing numbers of children.
As I have done throughout the pandemic, I continue to provide you with the latest and best COVID information from leading experts. Next Wednesday, I will host a conversation with Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Jeffrey Gold, Chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). This important, timely, and informative discussion will tell us how far we have come and how far we have to go.